Exclusive: The 28 Best Bands of CMJ, Gallery & Interviews

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Over three days during the musical marathon that is CMJ, photographer Jeff Fasano and reporter Matthew Shepatin lured 28 of the very best acts to private club Norwood for exclusive photo shoots and one-on-ones (“CMJ is a clusterfudge. Your sets are short, they’ re rushing you, the Man is giving you a hard time…But, seriously, it’s been exciting,” says Eric Schwortz of Milagres) before the bands were out the door and running to their next show, roadies in tow. What resulted is a whirlwind snapshot of the most exhilarating, exhaustive, and exhausting musical showcase of the year. Check out the best of CMJ after the jump.

Brahms (Pictured above- Brooklyn, New York) “The highlight of CMJ was the vegan Indian food cart outside the registration building. They’ve got this great crepe-like lentil pancake and don’t get me started about what goes on. When I grabbed that and some mango lassi after I picked up my badge, I knew it’d be a good week.”

image Cyndi Harvell (Bay Area, California) “I was walking up the street and I met some guy who asked me if I knew where to pick up CMJ badges. And then he said, ‘I’m in this band. It’s pop punk. We’re playing tomorrow.’ And I said, ‘Well, maybe I’ll check that out.’ Why not? Jump in and see what happens.” – Cyndi Harvell

image Dan Mangan (Vancouver, BC, Canada) “We played this amazing loft party for BrooklynVegan on Friday night and the vibe was incredible. Lots of wonderful people and great bands. Then on Saturday I told the audience that they had given me an erection. So. Sorry about that. How rude.” — Dan Mangan

image Deadbeat Darling (Brooklyn, New York) “In years past, I think we got caught up in trying to make something happen at CMJ. It’s the same with an event like SXSW. Everything is happening that week, everybody is shooting off fireworks. You’ve got to make a lot of noise to make any noise at all. So this year, we’re more relaxed. We’re going to play some great shows that just happen to be the week of CMJ.” – Joseph King of Deadbeat Darling

image Down With Webster (Toronto, ON, Canada) “As an artist there is something just a little extra special about performing in NY; it has been a dream of ours for such a long time, that we still can’t believe it’s happening.” – Pat Gillett of Down with Webster

image Eliza Blue (Twin Cities, Minnesota) “This is my first CMJ – and I lost my voice. So I’m experiencing it through a veil of silence. Standing in an elevator, hearing all these different accents, people from all over the world, it was neat. Maybe it will be my new thing, not talking.” – Eliza Blue

image Harper Blynn (New York City) “So far as the idea of ‘selling out’ because your song is on a TV show or in a commercial. These days there are so few access points for bands to make money that if you find one of them, congratulations to you. And anybody who thinks that’s selling out doesn’t make art for a living. Because if you did, you would understand that all you’re doing is trying to make a living so you can keep making art.” – Peter Harper of Harper Blynn

image Kaiser Cartel (Brooklyn, New York) “We had been a couple when we made our first album. We’re not in a relationship making this record. So we were on tour for a year and a half – breaking up. All the music we wrote is us dealing with that, and having to be together, stuck together in this little car, constantly in motion. We’d be bickering and then go on stage and the crowd has had no idea. People at the shows would be, like, ‘Man, you guys are going to do it tonight.’ And I’d be thinking, ‘Yeah, right.’” – Courtney Kaiser of Kaiser Cartel

image Lady Danville (Los Angeles, California) “We have three shows at CMJ – the Bowery, Rockwood Music Hall and the Panelist Show in this very room. I’m excited. I see this as a great opportunity, but I don’t feel any pressure to come out of this with a trophy.” – Michael Garner

image Left on Red (New York City) “We were psyched to play our CMJ show at The Bitter End, where our heroes once came to tread. You know who I mean, artist like Stephan Grappeli, Bob Dylan and umm…Lady Gaga” – Liah Alonso of Left on Red

image Loomis & the Lust (Santa Barbara, California) “There isn’t a lot of good Chinese food where we’re from in Santa Barbara. So I’ll probably go to Chinatown this week and grub.” – Will Loomis of Loomis & the Lust

image Men (New York City) “We have a single coming out November 1st called ‘Off Our Backs.’ We talk about it a lot – tops and bottoms.” – JD Samson of Men “But not strictly in a sexual position way.” – Michael O’ Neill of Men “More about how they operate in the world, how they interact with people.” – Ginger Brooks Takahashi of Men “For example, we often call ourselves a bunch of tops.” – JDS “Too many differing opinions.” – GB “Do we wish we had a bottom? Yes.” – JDS “Then there’ s the classification of a ‘bossy bottom.’” – GB “A bossy bottom wants to be on the bottom but have it their way.” – MO “There, like, ‘do it like this, no, do it like this.’” – JDS “Who is topping America, that’ s the question?” – GB “China is totally topping America.” – JDS Wait. America is a bossy bottom? “That’ s true.” – JDS

image Milagres (Brooklyn, New York) “CMJ is a clusterfudge. Your sets are short, they’re rushing you, the Man is giving you a hard time, you can’t get enough keyboard in your monitor, or too much. But, seriously, it’s been exciting for us.” – Eric Schwortz of Milagres

image My Dear Disco (Ann Arbor, Michigan) “The vibe I get with CMJ is that people hope to see something amazing but don’t expect to. When something does cut through it’ s potent because people – especially the New York-based music industry veterans – have written of the experience in their brain” – Robert Lester of My Dear Disco

image Murder Mystery (New York City) “I don’ t think there’ s a direct correlation between the number of CMJ shows a band plays and destiny to become the biggest band on earth. Phoenix is only playing one show, same as us. It’s safe to say that we are just as popular as Phoenix.” – Jeremy Coleman of Murder Mystery image The Narrative (New York City) “CMJ is not the Super Bowl. Opening for Radiohead in Madison Square Garden is the Super Bowl. It’s more like a really good tailgate.” – Suzie Zeldin of The Narrative

image New Collisions (Worcester, Massachusetts) “The panels are worthless for musicians. It may not be worthless for industry professionals or people who value networking. We don’t. I’ve heard stories of these A&R panels when bands rush them at the end with their demo disc. Ah, that’s disgusting. This isn’t how you want to live your life. I’d rather have a job than rush a panel. You want a record deal that badly? What’s wrong with you? Besides, everything is changing so quickly. What if six months from now the idea of being on a label is stupid? We’re constantly reevaluating based on our circumstances. Down the road, we might have to find some third-party financing, whatever that means in 2011.” – Alex Stern of New Collisions

“And that’s all a label is at this point. So little at labels are actually in-house. You hire out for your publicity. You hire out for your artistic development, your branding. Labels have become kind of product managers of all these third-party groups. So as a band you can get in there and start hiring those third-party groups yourself. The problem is, let’s say you hire a publicist, if you’re not on a label, most journalist don’t take you seriously. Bands have this buzz cycle. Surfer Blood is having this buzz cycle. West Coast is having this buzz cycle. They’re both recent signing to major labels which alerts the industry and press that they need to start taking this band seriously. So labels can give you clout but not all labels have the same cache.” – Scott Guild of New Collisions

image New Madrid (Brooklyn, New York) “The highlight of our CMJ was definitely playing on the Big Noyes CMJ Showcase at Parkside Lounge on Saturday night. The turnout was great, and the enthusiasm contagious. We also had a blast this week watching other bands like The Shake and Hank & Cupcakes.” – Erik Barragan of New Madrid

image Pepper Rabbit (Los Angeles, California) “We got a parking ticket here. I put money into that thing that spits out a receipt. I threw it on the dash — but upside down. Besides that, our CMJ experience has been cool. Where else can you see Surfer Blood and Local Natives both in 100-person capacity rooms? That was amazing.” – Luc Laurent of Pepper Rabbit

image The Shake (New York City) “I think bands are conflicted these days. On one hand, it’s popular for bands to say we can do it on our own and we don’ t need labels. We can do it like Arcade Fire. On the other hand, labels can open up doors. Yes, they might demand money from record sales, which could suck. At the same time, they can get you on bills and put you in front of people that you flat out wouldn’t have had the chance to get in front of. So this anti-label movement can be misplaced. If you have too much ego, you can end up playing the same bars for a year without advancing.” – Jon Merkin of The Shake

image Sydney Wayser (Brooklyn, New York) “When I try to write fast songs it doesn’t feel right. Then I slow it down and somehow the tempo of the music ends up the tempo I walk at. And it works.” – Sydney Wayser

image The Traveling Band (Manchester, England) “The second CMJ show we played was upstairs at Pianos, so it had a bit of a house party feel. At the end we did an acoustic number. We got rid of the PA system, went out into the crowd, and stood on some chairs. There was a group of people in the back of the room who were a bit noisy so halfway through the song we just went right over and got in their faces and sang it to them. It seemed to shut them up. They were all blushing.” – Joe Dudderidge of The Traveling Band

image Two Door Cinema Club (Bangor, North Ireland) “It’s the first CMJ we’ve ever been to. It’s always a bit weird when people say you’re a new British indie band. For one, being from Northern Ireland, we’re separate from the UK in that we’re really not part of England. And I’ve never really loved British indie music that much. A lot of our music, TV, and film actually comes from New York and America.” – Sam Halliday of Two Door Cinema Club

“I don’t think the Irish really get BritPop. We were more into American bands like At the Drive-In and Death Cab for Cutie. Bands like that are what really influenced us.” – Kevin Baird of Two Door Cinema Club

image Unicycle Loves You (Chicago, Illinois) “This was by far the best CMJ for us yet. The highlight would have to be meeting and talking with Cory McAbee, mastermind behind The American Astronaut, Stingray Sam, and The Billy Nayer Show. It’s not every day you get to meet a living cult hero, and come to find that he’s a great guy too.” – Jim Carroll of Unicycle Loves You

image Vanaprasta (Los Angeles, California) “On Friday night of CMJ we were walking all our gear about half a mile from one venue to the next and then playing an hour later. You’re constantly moving and shoulder to shoulder with perfect strangers and nothing ever stops, which is perfect for us because that’s exactly how our live show is.” Taylor Brown of Vanaprasta

image The Winterlings (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) “Being two singing fish in the luminescent reef of New York City as the music festival echoed through the dark, starry tide was exhilarating. It was like a chord strummed not only on our guitars but on our lives.” – Wolff Bowden of The Winterlings

image Xylos (Brooklyn, New York) “We played a CMJ showcase on Tuesday night at Spike Hill in Williamsburg. This awesome band Yost also played and we share a bass player with them. So he got twice as many drink tickets as everybody else. That means two.” – Eric Zeiler of Xylos

image Zowie (Auckland, New Zealand) “It’s my first trip to New York. Everybody is so cool. They kind of stick to themselves but they don’ t seem super judgmental, which I’ve noticed in a few other cities. I don’ t want to leave. The whole band doesn’t want to leave. We love it here!” – Zoe Fleury of Zowie

All artists photographed by Jeff Fasano at the Norwood during CMJ.